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Faith leaders thank Trump, say ban has united their communities

Faith leaders held a news conference at the Downtown Islamic Center to criticize — but also thank — President Donald Trump. | Andrea Salcedo/For the Sun-Times

Aymen Abdel Halim of the Council of Islamic Organizations in the Greater Chicago Area had one short message for President Donald Trump on Presidents Day: “Thank you.”

Abdel Halim believes that after all the “chaos” of Trump’s executive order, there is still a positive outcome from what Halim called the Trump administration’s “anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and white supremacist movements.”

“In a way, we can thank Donald Trump for bringing us together,” said Abdel Halim, the council’s communications director. “So thank you, Mr. Trump. Thank you for helping us recognize that silver lining. Thank you for making our friendships that much stronger and thank you for reaffirming our values as Americans.”

Trump’s initial executive order banned entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries and of all Syrian refugees; it was lifted amid legal challenges, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco refused to reinstate it earlier this month.

Abdel Halim was one of several Muslim, Jewish and Christian religious leaders who gathered Monday at the Downtown Islamic Center, 231 S. State St., anticipating Trump’s revised restrictions, which could be issued this week.

From young to old, hundreds gathered outside O'Hare Jan. 29 on the second consecutive night of protesting President Donald Trump's executive order banning entry to the U.S. from seven Middle East countries. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

From young to old, hundreds gathered outside O’Hare Jan. 29 on the second consecutive night of protesting President Donald Trump’s executive order banning entry to the U.S. from seven Middle East countries. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

The Associated Press reported Sunday that Trump’s new policy would cover the same seven countries listed in the original executive order, according to a senior administration official. In contrast to the first order, Syrian refugees would be allowed to apply for new visas, the official said.

That still won’t cut it, said Dr. Zaher Sahloul, senior adviser for the Syrian American Medical Society. He said those new guidelines, if enacted, would cause even more harm than the previous ban. He called the new ban “unconstitutional” and questioned it’s legality, saying that again it is a ban that blocks the entrance to the U.S. from a specific religious faith.

“It’s still a ban against Muslims,” Sahloul said. “This is a dangerous policy and we’re expecting the next Muslim ban to cause more harm to our country than it did before.”

Abdel Halim referred to verse 216 of the Koran: “But perhaps, you hate a thing and it is a good thing,” he read. “And perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you.”

For him, this verse is a reminder that there is “always a silver lining on the dark cloud.”

“That silver lining is represented by the diverse group of faith groups who stand with us today and have stood with us to say, ‘We oppose bans on Muslims and refugees and we stand with you against these unjust policies that contradict our values as Americans,’” Abdel Halim said.

Sahloul doesn’t think Trump’s immigration policies target only Muslims but all Americans.

“The fact that [his immigration policies are] creating hatred, division and fear, is targeting all Americans,” Sahloul said. “As an American Muslim, I believe that this current administration is not serving us because it is dividing families within the Latino American communities, it’s creating walls among us. It is not serving the public in American cities. . . . It’s not serving the people who elected Trump.”

Demonstrators protest agaist President Trump's executive immigration ban at Chicago O'Hare International Airport on January 28. |  Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images

Demonstrators protest agaist President Trump’s executive immigration ban at Chicago O’Hare International Airport on January 28. | Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images